Northern Lights travel guide

Northern Lights travel guide


The Fire Fox. The Temperamental Lady.
The Aurora Borealis. The Dawn Goddess...

No matter how they are known around the world, these illustrious illuminations have fascinated, inspired and terrified since the beginning of time.

Even though we now know what causes them, the lights still retain certain mysteries – such as why they are more active around the equinoxes, and exactly when a display will take place. However, we reckon that this unpredictability makes seeing them all the more wonderful, and even those privileged enough to have seen them dozens of times never fail to be awe-struck by this unique light show, shifting in form and colour each night they appear.
Regardless of how well documented and studied the lights are, there are few experiences on the planet which are more moving and humbling than watching these dazzling colours dart across the sky, reflected across the snow and ice on an endless Arctic night. Our Northern Lights travel guide will show you how.

A brief history of the Northern Lights

Rather wonderfully, the varied aurora folklore gives us as much of an insight into Arctic cultures as it does into the lights themselves.

In Finland, the lights are called revontulet – which translates as “Fox Fire.” The story is that the tail of a running Arctic fox brushed against the powdery snow, creating sparks in the sky. Coastal dwellers, however, traced the lights back to the sea, blaming lights shining off the scales of the abundant fish for the auroral displays. Viking legends describe dancing maidens, while North American tribes associate them with the spirit world – including torches lit by the dead. Alaskan Inuit also think they represent the Afterlife – as the ghosts of hunted animals.

The lights are often viewed as a bad omen in regions where they rarely show; this reputation has only been enhanced by their appearance over the skies of London during the Blitz in 1939, and in the USA in 1941 – on the night that Pearl Harbour was attacked.

Astronomers have long since understood the aurora, now known to be caused by electrically charged particles traveling 93 million miles from the sun. When the particles collide with different gases in the earth’s atmosphere, the lights are created. The type of gas and the altitude determine the colour, while magnetic fields affect the form and movement. Greens and yellows are the most common, while rare reds and blues are highly sought after.

However, decoding the Northern Lights hasn’t made them any less hypnotic, and any visitor who witnesses them billowing overhead is sure to come back from their Northern Lights vacation with their own tales of magic and wonder.

Is a Northern Lights vacation for you?


Go if...

  • ...You love active, outdoor activities and aren’t afraid of spending a little time without your creature comforts.
  • ...You enjoy a photography challenge.
  • ...You're interested in new cultures, foods and ways of life.
  • ...You enjoy being around animals – huskies and reindeer are a part of daily life in many Arctic regions.

Don't go if...

  • ...For you, vacation = sunshine.
  • ...You are impatient, and hate waiting for things to happen.
  • ...You enjoy predictability, and being able to accurately plan every part of your vacation.
  • ...You’d rather stay in a bustling, brightly lit city than head out into the wilderness.

Seeing the Northern Lights


Quite literally – getting away from it all. The darker the sky, the more vivid the lights appear, so if you are staying in a town, you will be whisked out – by vehicle, reindeer or snowmobile – to a quiet rural spot. If you are already in a remote lodge, you can go deeper still - often to the banks of a frozen lake, where there is no light and the aurora can reflect off the mirror-like ice.
You may be sheltering in a simple hut, or huddled round a fire toasting marshmallows and sipping hot drinks. You’ll hear stories about the science and the mythology, local culture and the constellations. If you stay in your hotel, there may be an ‘aurora alarm’ to warn you when the lights appear.
The lights only appear at night, of course, so you can choose from a great variety of daytime activities to keep you busy – and warm – until the Arctic sun dips below the horizon and the night time show begins.
Written by Vicki Brown
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